Are Emojis Appropriate for Use in Business Communications?

Laughing/crying face emoji. Heart eyes emoji. Dare I say it … poo emoji. These are relatively common to see when browsing social media, and you may even use emojis yourself. Before emojis, there were emoticons. Remember those fun, sideways faces that only required a keyboard and some imagination? 🙂

History of emojis

Carnegie Mellon professor Dr. Scott Fahlman first used the modern-day emoticon for a smiley face on September 19, 1982, because he felt that typed messages on a computer screen appear neutral and difficult to translate emotionally. Although, he wasn’t the first – there is evidence that emoticons date all the way back to the 1800s!

Today, mobile users rely heavily on emojis to convey emotion through text. According to Merriam-Webster, emoji is defined as, “any of various small images, symbols, or icons used in text fields in electronic communication to express the emotional attitude of the writer, convey information succinctly, communicate a message playfully without using words, etc.”

“Emoji” is a Japanese word, and its plural in Japanese is also “emoji.” However, in American English, most language experts opt for “emojis” as the plural. If you’ve used either version of the word, you’d be correct!

The first emojis were created in 1999 by Japanese artist Shigetaka Kurita. The original 176 emojis included characters for weather, traffic, technology and all the phases of the moon. HubSpot, a full-platform marketing and CRM software firm, states that as of June 2018, there were more than 2,823 emojis on the Unicode Standard list.

Emojis can be effective in marketing

Emojis are designed to transcend language and technology barriers – everyone, regardless of what country they’re from, which language they speak or which mobile phone they use, can understand emojis.

A recent study by global social-media firm My Clever Agency found that more than 50% of brands saw an increase in email opens when subject lines included emojis. On social, tweets with emojis saw 25% more engagement, and on Facebook, emojis result in 57% more likes, 33% more comments and 33% more shares. Other research has shown that nearly half of Instagram comments contain an emoji.

So, what does this mean for your business? It doesn’t necessarily mean you should start stuffing your social posts and email subjects with emojis. There’s a time and a place for emojis use in marketing communications.

Tips for emoji use

Keep it simple – use emojis sparingly. Customers and prospects shouldn’t need a cipher to decode your message. The idea is to be relatable, not unprofessional or difficult to understand.

Use them strategically – social posts with emojis can receive higher engagement. Conduct A/B testing – do a post without emojis and then do a similar post with them, and analyze which received better engagement.

Stay on brand – make sure they’re relevant to your story/business/industry. Your audience and the platform you use to communicate with them will determine whether emojis work for your business.

Be aware of hidden meanings – some emojis may look innocent but could have an unintended meaning. Do a little research before you use emojis in your messaging.

Research how they’ll appear on different devices/operating systems and platforms – the beaming face with smiling eyes emoji on Apple looks very different on Samsung, Google and Microsoft. Taking it a step further, it can look different again on Facebook.

Like most marketing tools, emojis can be beneficial when used in context, via the right medium and for the right audience. The primary purpose is to create emotional reactions, which is beneficial if your business is working on building relationships and loyalty. However, there is a risk of looking unprofessional if emojis aren’t used properly. It’s worth extra consideration before adding a smiley face to your messaging.

Emily Duane is a former senior marketing coordinator for the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA). She currently is living and writing in Denver, Colorado.

This article first ran in the February 2019 Reporter, TCIA’s member newsletter.

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